THE CHINESE CHARACTER 59
myself, 1 am inclined to think that the man who sits on a chair that is a real chair, and sleeps on a bed that is a real bed (and not a daytime sofa) is a happier man. The standard that measures a man's civilization by the number of mechanical buttons he presses in a day must, therefore, be a false standard, and a lot of this so-called mystery of Chinese contentment is of the Westerner's own making.
It is true, however, that Chinese people are perhaps more contented than Western people, class for class, when living under the same conditions. This spirit of cheerfulness and contentment is found in both the literate and illiterate classes, for such is the penetration of the Chinese racial tradition. It may be seen in the gay, babbling rickshaw boy of Peking, for ever laughing and joking all the way and ready to laugh at a fellow-man's discomforts, or it may be seen in the panting and perspiring sedan-chair coolies who carry you up to the top of Kuling, or it may be seen in the boat-trackers who pull your boat up the Szechuen rapids and who earn for their living a bare pittance beyond two simple but hearty meals a day. A simple but hearty meal eaten without much worry is, however, a great deal of luck, according to the Chinese theory of contentment, for as a Chinese scholar has put it, "a well-filled stomach is indeed a great thing; all else is luxury of life."1
For contentment is another of those words, like "kindliness" and "peaceableness," which are written on red paper and pasted on all doors on New Year's Day. It is part of the counsel for moderation, part of that human wisdom which says, "When good fortune comes, do not enjoy all of it," and of that advice of a Ming scholar "to choose the lighter happiness." Among the epigrams of Laotse which have passed into current phraseology is the maxim that "one who is contented will not meet with disgrace." Anotherform of this maxim is, "One who is contented is always happy." In literature, it emerges as a praise of the rural life and of the man who has few worries, a sentiment which is found in all poems and private letters. I
1 The Chinese description of this happy state of going to bed with a filled stomach is: "soft, well-filled, dark and sweet"—the last two adjectives referring to sweet slumber This expression is positively voluptuous in the Chinese language.